#naturewritingchallenge

#NatureWritingChallenge - My Best Moment on #PublicLands in 2018

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“My Best Moment on #PublicLands in 2018”

SEASON 2, WEEK 14

December 13, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


The second I saw this topic, I knew instantly I wanted to talk about my trip in the spring to the Olympic Peninsula. I know, I’ve talked at great length about the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Rainier, but I can’t get them out of my head and I could go on and on about them forever. I feel the same way about the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forests, and Death Valley. But, in 2018, I visited the Olympic Peninsula twice and the first time was truly breathtaking and memorable in such a positive way.

I started 2018 with hiking and adventure goals. Though I’ve fallen short of what I was hoping for, the few trips I did take were more memorable than I could have imagined. I planned a spring solo trip to the northwest because I had been all over in 2017 and felt I needed to live up to those memories. I’m glad I planned the trip and tried to live up to the trips of 2017, because the trip to the Olympic Peninsula out shined the majority of them all.

I got a cheap flight for Easter weekend and had the Friday off from work, so what better weekend to head to the Northwest? I flew in on a Thursday night, around midnight, and drove to the Mt. Storm King Ranger Station. I had originally planned to park at the gate to Staircase and walk in, since the road was still closed, but As I had a last minute suggestion to hike Mt. Storm King and wanted to take it. I did a quick change at the restroom, and hiked to Marymere Falls. I was determined to enjoy some spring waterfalls, and this beauty did not disappoint. From there I hiked back to the giant rock at the base of the Mt. Storm King trail and headed up. I’m so glad I followed the advice and got to see Lake Crescent from above. What a treat. Being from Texas, the trail was a bit steep, but worth every ounce of sweat.

From Mt. Storm King, I headed west to Sol Duc Falls. It wasn’t too busy and there was still snow in the woods, so that was magical. From there I went to my little cabin I had reserved up near the the Ozette Ranger Station. The Lost Resort was home for a night and the cabin was more than adequate and very quiet. I had a good sleep and woke up to hike the Ozette Loop or Ozette Triangle. This loop trail was one of the highlights of my year, let alone this long weekend. I went from wet forests to open coastal prairie to the beach and back. Everything was so green and lively and muddy, the fresh smells of the ocean and the musty forest were everything I could have wanted during a weekend on the Olympic Peninsula. I made a quick stop at the Hoh Rain Forest area and did a few laps through the mossy trees. After my hike, I made my way down to Forks to eat and get a motel room. I settled in and then took a little drive to Rialto Beach to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. What. A. Day.

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I woke up, rested and ready for the rainy day ahead. I had plans to maybe hike to Second Beach, but I didn’t want to get too muddy before heading to the airport so I settled on just visited Ruby Beach as planned. Settled, as if it was “less than” is not what I meant at all because Ruby Beach is beyond beautiful. The rain and fog made the beach beyond memorable. I left there and had a nice breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge before heading back to the city. From there, I made the trek back to Seattle to visit the flagship REI before catching a movie and heading to the airport.

This long weekend was quick, packed full of green scenery, and a period of time I’ll cherish forever. This trip left me wanting more, and so I made the trek back in October to experience the fall and see even more. I’ve been obsessed with the Pacific Northwest since I visited in 2008 and the second an opportunity arises to move up there, I’m gone.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A Memorable Rainy Day on Public Lands


“A Memorable Rainy Day on Public Lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 12

November 29, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


April 1, 2018

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It was the final day of my long weekend in the Pacific Northwest. I had hiked the Ozette Triangle, visited Mt. Storm King and wanted a little more Olympic National Park before heading to my flight in Seattle.

I had spent Saturday night in Forks, after visiting Rialto Beach and spending time in the Hoh area so it was a great starting off point for this rainy day ahead. I put on my rain coat, checked out of the motel, and headed towards Ruby Beach. The rain was off and on, but when I got to the beach trail it was ON. It was sideways rain, but I was determined to enjoy Ruby Beach. I had visited Ruby Beach years before, and needed to revisit it. I was glad to see that you still have to climb over tons of fallen trees to get to the beach. It was gray and wet and completely perfect.

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From Ruby Beach, I went to the Kalaloch Lodge to grab breakfast. I had breakfast with a view of the ocean, the gray sky, and a bloody mary. It wasn’t very busy and I felt quite relaxed between my stops for the day. From the lodge, I made my way out to the Quinault area. I did a little hike just past the lodge, on the Wrights Canyon trail, in kind of a misty haze. I didn’t go very far before turning around, just so I knew I had enough time to see everything I wanted to see. From that trailhead, I moved east around the lake.

I stopped to take an obligatory photo with Bunch Falls and continued on to the Maple Glade trail which was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. The forest was the greenest green and the rain was light but prevalent with added drops that collected in the canopy. The skunk cabbage was prominent, the water was flowing, and the trail was magical.

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From Maple Glade, I finished the trek along the north side of Lake Quinault and back to the main road. The rain was picking back up, and the drive back towards Seattle was hit or miss with showers. I stopped at a rest area with the biggest trees I’d ever seen at a rest stop, it downpoured, and I continued onward to the REI downtown.

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The Pacific Northwest is my favorite place to be no matter the weather. Rain is expected, and every time I’ve visited I’ve been ready for it. I went in the spring and I got spring. The weather was cool, wet, windy, and completely perfect. I’d take a rainy day in Washington over a sunny day in Texas any day of the week.

#NatureWritingChallenge - A moment I am thankful for on public lands

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“A Moment I am Thankful for on Public Lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 11

November 23, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to keep this short. One of the moments I’m most thankful for on public lands happened in October when I was visiting the gorgeous state of Washington. I had just parted ways with my new friend at Mount Rainier and was looking for something to do before going back to the airport so I headed west back to the Olympic Peninsula. I crossed a neat bridge called the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and made my way up to another cool bridge called the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. From there I drove to the Mt. Walker Viewpoint and there it was, the moment I’m forever thankful for… I walked from the parking lot to the viewpoint and saw Mount Rainier in the distance, peeking through the clouds. I remember seeing it, thinking to myself that I knew that mountain, and then reading the sign and just laughing. I was giddy with delight, really, to think I had been so close hours before was insane and wonderful all at once. I went from the South Lookout to the North, saw the amazing range of mountains, and then went back to the South to get more looks at Mount Rainier. There is just something about that place, it’s got a hold over me.

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Mt. Walker was a fun drive, a nice quiet place to see some views, and a great places to do a cleanup before heading a few miles up the road to Finnriver Farm & Cidery. I finished the night with the same mountains as I saw from up on high. Probably the second most memorable moment in recent memory. The whole day, really, was a moment. From waking up and seeing Mount Rainier at sunrise to meandering through the park all day, and then making may way back over to the Olympic Peninsula. WHAT A GREAT WAY TO SPEND A DAY.

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#NatureWritingChallenge - Reasons to #OptOutside this Black Friday. @REI

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“Reasons to #OptOutside this Black Friday”

SEASON 2, WEEK 10

November 15, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


This week’s topic is one I instantly loved upon reading. As someone who spent years working black Friday and seeing it get earlier every year, I’m so pleased retailers are FINALLY coming around to closing both Thursday and Friday to encourage people to get out of the stores and into life. REI focuses on opting to get outside with their #OptOutside campaign, I couldn’t be more excited to share why I will be opting outside and encouraging you to do the same.

Be Thankful

If you’re not working Thanksgiving or Friday, be thankful. So many people are stuck indoors or performing services and will not even have the option to Opt Outside. As someone who worked in retail forever, it was always a fun and tiring time to work Thursday night into Friday. The store managers really try to make it fun, and often bring in food, but it’s still not being home with family or out on the trail. I’m beyond thankful now that I do not have to work Thursday or Friday, and I will be damned if I am going to waste it indoors at a store to get a deal on something I do not really need.

Finances and Stuff

Do you really need that new TV? Is your old TV broken? I’m speaking from experience here, you don’t. I bought a black Friday TV once and it was completely unnecessary because it was on sale months later for the same price. Anything worth having and anything you need will be bought when it’s right. Do you need to literally push through people or wait in line to get the best deal on something that is engineered to be replaced in a few years? Aren’t there enough other deal days, and generally lower prices online regularly, anyway? I know it’s a very personal choice, but I’ve made the choice to say screw the bullshit sales and hello to my family and the local trails.

The Benefits of Nature

#OptOutside for YOU. DO IT FOR YOU. Be selfish. If you want to do it, just do it. It’s good for your health. It’s good for your spirit. There are studies underway to prove nature is good for your mental health and we know exercise is good, so get out there for YOU. I will be doing it for my mental health and for my physical health. Some family get together stress people out, use that as your reason to #OptOutside to clear your head.

Educational

I learn so much being outside - if it’s not on a sign or informational packet - it’s on my phone when I google a topic in my car at the trailhead. I learn so much about how things work, which plants are edible, which animals live where, and so on. The outdoors encourages education. Furthermore, I run into people who know much more than I do and thus learn from them. I learn from my online outdoor community too, which is how I even know about the #OptOutside idea.

#OptOutside to educate and encourage others to get outside too. Use your knowledge, if you have it, to educate and encourage others. Be the change you wish to see in the outdoor world. If you want to have better stewards of the land, we have to educate and encourage.

It’s for Everyone

You don’t need money (or a lot of money), fancy outdoor clothes, or to travel very far to #OptOutside. Anyone can get out there and enjoy the trails. Sure, scenic destinations sound great and the pictures in the marketing suggest mountains and stuff, but the local trails will do. I don’t have the time or money to head to a mountain or super scenic area, so I’ll be heading to a local state park or city park. The trail doesn’t have to be dirt to #OptOutside either, you can hit up your local paved nature true. Don’t let stereotypes or false expectations fool you into thinking you need to do one certain thing to #OptOutside.

In Conclusion

I’d rather fight the crowds on a popular trail than the crowds at Best Buy for a cheap ass TV. #OptOutside for you health and the health of our public lands. Get out there and love life, love time spent with friends or strangers, and enjoy some fresh air. #OptOutside for your reasons and yours alone. I hope more companies give their employees days off to get out with their families and into the outdoors. Happy trails.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Stranger danger! (just kidding)

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“A Memorable encounter with a stranger on public lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 9

November 8, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I can’t pinpoint one conversation with a stranger. I’m not always so good at reaching out to fellow public land users and being my normal outgoing self. I’m always friendly in that I say hello to people along the trails and will definitely engage in conversation if someone else starts one. If I’m headed a National Park, odds are I’m with someone and become even less outgoing because we’re focused on our time together. All in all, I think this topic of discussion has inspired to me to make it a point, or objective, to be more outgoing and take the time to have the random chat with other public land lovers.

I have a series of moments I do remember, that were brief, that I’ll share.

Arches - After hiking up to Delicate Arch, we were making our way back to the car and had a chat with a family from Michigan that noticed my friend’s shirt that had our alma mater displayed. I’ve had many conversations with people in Arches, actually, but nothing too lengthy overall. Always brief, but always friendly. I talked to a guy about taking morning photos, talked to an old couple about all of the places they’ve visited, and talked to people who saw my shirt (usually something about Michigan) and made an initial comment.

Clothing related - I have had more interactions based on the hat, shirt, or jacket I am wearing. I wear a LOT of Michigan gear, in fact it’s probably annoying to many at this point, but I love being from there and it is certainly one of the most recognizable states. I LOVE meeting people from Michigan, learning about their experiences there, and ultimately if they love it or not. I’ve been called out to from across a parking lot and stopped on a busy sidewalk. I love it.

Time related - I love being asked “what time did you start today?” when I’m coming back from an in/out trail as swarms of people are headed out. I’m an early starter, and I LOVE watching all of the people head in as I head out because I not-so-secretly love being asked how the trail was. I always love to give an opinion and try to read what type of hiker the person is, without being judgmental in a negative light. I love to give little tidbits to look for and point out great spots to take it all in. I love to share about any animals I’ve seen or flowery meadows. I love it.

I’ve had excellent chats with rangers at the various parks and monuments in the US, but I don’t count those because that’s more their job. I have had endless chats with hotel and campground staff, but again, it’s their job to engage. I generally don’t mind taking time to chat, and I would love to do it more often. So, if you see me out here, ask how the trail was!

#NatureWritingChallenge - Public Lands Wish List

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“YOUR PUBLIC LANDS WISH LIST”

SEASON 2, WEEK 8

November 1, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Public lands are funded by the people which is why we all are entitled to enjoy them. Funded by the people is a broad concept but really just means taxes, private donations, and fees come together to pay the bills.

I’m going to address the things I’d love to see in public lands but may not make sense to everyone or may not be financially feasible.

Streamlined Management

I’d like to see all of our public lands managed in a more efficient manner. I envision one agency, under the Department of Interior, with various branches. Have a branch for the National Parks & Monuments, have a branch for the grazing lands, and have a branch for the forests. I know don’t know enough about it all, but I just imagine a more harmonious and streamlined management of all the lands we know and love. With streamlined management could come a streamlined leadership and staff. Not a reduction in number, but people all on the same team able to work together even easier.

Proper Funding

Simply put, we need to have our public lands made a priority and a budget fulfilled to address all of the back and future maintenance necessary for modern crowds. We need to pay our park rangers, park workers, and all people who manage/work the lands a fair wage. We need to invest in science and research and fully fund studies involving our public lands.

Transportation/Accessibility

Public lands are becoming popular, and really have always been popular. When I was at Mount Rainier a couple of weekends ago I was reading about the first car that came into the park and how modern cars flooded in and it was chaos. So many parks are overrun by the visitors that parking lots are full early on in the morning. Shuttles have popped up at a few locations, and seem to be alright, but more could be done.

More shuttles at more parks, more transportation from major (or nearby) cities with direct routes to public lands. More options for people that may have few options to get out to public lands. More urban public lands would be a great way to introduce even more people to how great they are and what they have to offer. More people that respect and know them means more future stewards.

Public lands need funding but they also need specific funding to be more ADA friendly. While it’s clear not every location can be accessed by everyone, many main places can be modified to allow more people of all abilities to see some of the best vistas on our public lands.

Education/Appreciation

My wish list focuses on inclusion, funding, and streamlining. There are endless other needs, but these are the stepping stones for so much more. With more funding and more accessibility, more education can happen and people can become more aware of how important these places are to our nation and the tribes of humans that hold them sacred to this day. We must teach the history of the land to ensure people respect where it came from and how important it is to so many to this day.

We can’t have it all, right now anyway, so we need to keep fighting the good fight. We need to keep visiting, keep buying annual passes, keep respecting the land, and keep voting for people who make public lands a priority.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Your Most Iconic/Favorite Entrance Station to a National Park

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“Your Most Iconic/Favorite Entrance Station to a National Park”

SEASON 2, WEEK 7

October 25, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


If this topic was more than a week ago, I wouldn’t have been able to pick Mount Rainier National Park. I would have chosen Bryce Canyon, Olympic, or Redwoods. But, as luck would have it, I got to visit Mount Rainier with a knowledgeable guide and drive through THREE entrance stations that all stood out to me. There was one other, but it was more of a pay station and didn’t hold a lot of eye candy value to me.

I have a lot of memories and photos of entrance signs from everywhere (state/local parks included), but nothing compares to driving through a cool ranch-style entrance arch on three different occasions. Seeing people share photos of park entrances is one of my favorite things because it just entices me to visit.

My trip to Mount Rainier started in the Tacoma suburbs. I met up with my knowledgeable guide and learned about all of the rivers and history from the suburbs to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Since our first stop of the evening was at the Sun Top Lookout, for sunset and then we camped on National Forest land, I never saw the first entrance into Mount Rainier National Park other than by headlights the next morning as we chased the sunrise. Despite it being dark, it’s still memorable because it was a gateway of sorts as we transitioned from forest to park. Of course the trees didn’t change and the road was still paved, but it made it official for me. I’ve always wanted to see the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest too, but Mount Rainier was a dream I’d only seen from afar.

Through the gateway, we were headed up to Chinook Pass. You know, the view from the side of the road above Tipsoo Lake was memorable, but passing under the Pacific Crest Trail to the Wenatchee National Forest was also memorable. This takes us to two entrances now, this one I was able to snap a photo of due to daylight. From this point, I didn’t know what else to expect. We passed through the pay station, where you’d normally show your pass, but it was closed. Not a memorable pass through, but the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is quite vivid in my memory. I walked across my first walking suspension bridge, saw some big old cedars, and really embraced low level forest of the park.

As the day passed, many stops were made and we eventually exited through the gateway at the Nisqually Entrance. Apparently, this is the more popular entrance. Sure, the entrances were fun, but the places accessibility within the boundary are what count. There was not a place in Mount Rainier National Park that disappointed. If it wasn’t a scenic vista, it was huge trees. Everywhere I turned, I was impressed. The views of neighboring peaks in the various National Forest lands were also impressive and humbling, making the park that much better. I am grateful to have had a great guide and new friend show me around; I have previewed the park and am ready to dive in. My favorite entrance, for the record, was from Wenatchee National Forest to the park, passing under the Pacific Crest Trail. To me, that is the ultimate representation of the Pacific Northwest in one spot.

The reason I love these entrances is not only because they’re cool to look at, it’s because of the experience I had in and around the park. The memories made, vistas seen, and roads traveled mean the world to me and I am fortunate to have been able to visit. The trees, mountains, and history of the land have made this park instantly one of my favorites thus making these entrances some of my favorites.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Underrated Part of Oklahoma

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“An underrated experience at a national park, refuge, or national forest.”

Season 2, Week 6

October 18, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


When people in Texas speak fondly of Oklahoma, it’s usually about the gorgeous scenery of the eastern edge of the state. While that area is all great and beautiful, I found a little piece of heaven on the southwest side called Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Wichita Mountains is a US Fish and Wildlife Service managed piece of property that is a refuge for bison, wild turkey, and elk.

I was browsing through the blog of a cool local hiker/trail runner and saw his review and recent visit and knew I needed to head up there myself. It was only about three hours away, a perfect little Sunday drive, and offered some varying terrain according to his post and the research I did. So, I picked a Sunday at the end of April and set out to explore.

The drive out of Texas always feels like it takes forever and the drive out of Texas into southwestern Oklahoma truly feels like you’ve gone nowhere. The plus side, I saw some bison on the way in, just hanging out, so that was cool. I mean, I half expected to see bison but was still pleasantly surprised. I made a mental note that I’ll have to come back for a weekend to explore the place.

I made my way over the cattle guards and on to the road that winds through the refuge east to west almost in the middle of it all. The road starts out in a field with a lake to the south and eventually becomes lined with small trees as the hills begin. There are several turnouts and roads leading to various picnic spots and trails, with the final one for me being the road that lead to the north trialhead for the Charon’s Garden trail.

The trails I planned to hike were within the Wichita Mountains Wilderness area which is an 8600 acre area within the refuge designed to remain as wild as possible. Charon’s Garden trail is one of two designated trails in the wilderness and one I attempted to complete. The moment I parked and walked to the other parking lot, I laughed and realized I could have parked closer.

The flow of a stream, the wind through the leaves, and the general lack of people were all very noticeable right away once I got to the actual trailhead. The sun was behind the rocks, and remained that way for the first part of my hike. The trails went through forests, across dried up streams, and through boulder fields.

I was on the Charon’s Garden trail, almost to the boulder field where I gave up and turned back, and I saw it… a maple leaf. I was overjoyed, projected to an emotional high - over a leaf. You see, dear friends, I miss trees. I miss big beautiful trees. I see them, on occasion, but not often enough. Anyway, with the maples came a trickling stream and a boulder field. I have zero experience with big rocks, so I didn’t really mess around on them being I was alone and inexperienced.

Heading back, I was determined to find another trail to salvage the day. Crab Eyes trail was an unmaintained, unofficial trail that shared the same beginning as Charon’s Garden on the north end. So, I thought I’d check it out. The trail was marked by homemade signs that had little crabs on them which I found charming and hilarious. The website for the refuge does say there are trail like these and it is okay to use them, so I didn’t feel bad. I’m glad I did, too, because it was the highlight of the day aside from the maple trees. Such an unexpected trail, crossing streams and a lot of little ups and downs over boulders and ridges. Endless views and rocks for days - including the crab eyes for which the trail was named. (see bottom of this post for a photo I made to really highlight the crab eyes)

Overall, I only saw about 10% of the refuge but was so impressed I have it on my list for a fall return and hopefully again in the late spring. There is so much left to see, so many more boulders to actually tackle, and miles of trails left to hike. An unexpected gem in the middle of nowhere, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge delivers on variety and nature.

I wrote about this for my 52 Hike Challenge (it was #16 for this year)… check it out!

 I tried my best in Paint to illustrate the crab eyes….

I tried my best in Paint to illustrate the crab eyes….

#NatureWritingChallenge - A memorable animal encounter on public lands

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“A memorable animal encounter on public lands”

SEASON 2, WEEK 5

October 11, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I wasn’t going to write an essay this week. I had no motivation because I don’t have but a few animal encounter stories to tell. I told my favorite, and most memorable, last season and you can read about it here. I thought about this topic all week and a few things came to mind:

  1. I don’t go wildlife watching often enough

  2. I haven’t been to many places with true wildlife

  3. Maybe I need to travel more?

I was just about to forego the writing and just share the old topic when I got a message from Douglas Scott asking me to host the chat for this week. So, I’m here, in real time, one hour before the chat piecing together another memorable animal encounter that nearly slipped my mind.

It was August 2014 in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was my first time visiting, though I had driven through Colorado several times. The motive for the trip from Texas to Colorado was to help a friend move into a new place near Fort Collins and then leave her and head west into Rocky Mountain National Park.

I entered the park on a sunny morning. Viewpoints were stopped at, pictures were taken. A lake was encountered in all of the mountain glory. I have a lot of trouble with the details of this trip, but I believe it was Lake Irene. The day continued on as the views leveled off and camp was set up at the Stillwater Campground on Lake Granby. A nap was had and then an adventure towards Steamboat Springs happened, with a turnaround way before getting there. The night was illuminated by a bright moon and it made for an awesome scene over the lake, which was visible from the tent. I do remember how amazing that detail was, so there is that.

Another amazing aspect I recall was waking up and wanting to go back up into the mountains/park and along the way seeing elk grazing in valley meadow. What a sight. Those elk stopped me in my tracks, and I had to pull over and just sit there a minute. It was the perfect morning - the sun was just coming up, the grass was a brilliant green, the elk majestic as all hell, and not many people around at all. It was a moment to just feel alive but also feel very insignificant in the best way. It was the only time I’ve stopped to see elk, really, and one of the only animal encounters I’ve had on public lands. I guess it’s time to get out more!

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Past 15 Years

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“How my public lands experience changed in the last 15 years”

Season 2, Week 4

October 4, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Fifteen years ago it was 2003 and I was in my first year of college at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that point on a “national level,” I had only been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I had only been out of the state a handful of times, mostly to Ontario, where I visited several provincial parks. Public land use for me was very localized until 2008.

As I’m writing this, I always jump to “national level” public land but there is so much at the local level that I almost overlooked all of the wonderful places I had been. Michigan has some of the best state parks I’ve seen, some of the finest state and national forests around, and plenty of county parks to fill any gaps. Near my college, we had university property along a river with miles of trails and down the road another county park that had a similar setup. On any given day, I could be found on the coast of Lake Michigan at the beach or on the dunes. My friends and I would hop in one of our cars and head west to the lake as often as we could during any season. There were several great state parks that offered a varying degree of the outdoor experience.

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In 2006 I changed my major to Natural Resource Management and took a few courses in wildlife management and ecology. I had several projects that forced me out of the classroom and into the woods. I went to a national forest to help clear a trail, I surveyed state park camping sites, and assisted with trail building. I took a job, as my internship, as a seasonal park ranger with the City of Wyoming, a suburb of Grand Rapids. I patrolled the city parks with a partner for four summers. I removed graffiti, walked the trails, cleaned up trash, and learned that public spaces in the city can be worth exploring. Being a seasonal park ranger, in an urban area, was not ideal in my grand scheme of natural resource management, but it certainly helped me appreciate the tedious work that goes unnoticed by park patrons that I’m sure government employees across the agencies deal with daily.

Fast forward to 2007 when I embark on a spring break road trip that would forever change my perspective on life. As mentioned, I hadn’t been out of Michigan much and this trip took me across the Midwest directly to the Rocky Mountains. While no major national public lands were visited on this trip, I saw what was out there and where they were from the freeways. The 2007 trip got me looking at maps and learning about the big parks. I had spent 20+ years before not really caring much about national public lands because I was low income, in a state without many spots, and in a state hundreds of miles away. The trip led more trips, endless trips actually, and lit a burning desire to see the land that belonged to all citizens.

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In 2008, after almost seeing a handful of public land hot spots in 2007, I took another trip that included plans to see Redwood National & State Parks as well as Death Valley National Park. Along the way, I saw plenty of state and local parks along the Pacific Coast as well as a few national forests. The west is best, and I loved it so much, I went back in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

They say you don’t realize what you had until it is gone, and I feel that way about Michigan’s natural beauty since moving to Texas in 2011. I took advantage of a lot when I was there, but there are endless places to see and I have a lot on the list of public lands I wish I had visited. Since being in Texas, I’ve had more opportunities to enjoy life due to a little bit of job security, so I’ve used that to explore public lands even more. I now have the means to visit public land locations in other states and I take full advantage when I can. Dallas-Fort Worth is a big airport that offers affordable flights to many great places that allow me to plan a trip, see multiple public land locations, and get home all in a long weekend and for very few dollars in the grand scheme of life.

I’m not quite public lands obsessed, but my desire to explore them has greatly increased in the past seven years. With more exploration comes more knowledge which has taught me the value of the land and what it takes to preserve them for future generations. Fifteen years ago I had no idea people didn’t like public lands nor did I know the constant battle in place to protect and designate these treasured places. I had no idea how these lands tied into Indigenous culture nor did I know much about the history of any specific act or designated parcel. I’m so thankful to know people who have so much knowledge about public lands and are willing to share. I’m thankful to have a better understanding of how challenging it can be to find a balance with public lands - in management, designation, visitation, and preservation. I’m proud to say I’m part of the current public lands conversation and I can only hope that as other people become aware and involved they are too. Public lands involvement has changed my life, steered my path for what I want in life, and influenced almost every non-family visit vacation plan I make. If you can get out there, get out there - to your city park, state park, national park, national forest, state forest, whatever! Go find the land that belongs to all of us and enjoy it within your legal rights!

#NatureWritingChallenge - A Person Who Inspired Your Love For Public Lands

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“A Person Who Inspired Your Love For Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 3

September 27, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


Of all the road trips, camping trips, and vacations, I’d have to say seeing public lands became a big part of them in 2008. My best friend Kevin, the guy from all of my road trip stories, really inspired my love for and promoted public lands the most out of anyone I knew back then. We started to incorporate visiting public lands in our road trips and eventually made it our mission to make various National Parks our main destination.

Today, we don’t get out as much together as we did back in college, but I think we both still love public lands and what they stand for as much or more than before. Our last big trip before both of us settled into life was leaving Houston on a whim and driving to Saguaro National Park just to see it really quickly because we had to be back the next day. The thrill of the road trip plus a destination to see cool cacti was all we needed. Since then, I know he’s taken his family on a couple of trips that included various National Parks and public lands to which they all seem to have enjoyed.

I’ve taken trips since then to visit many National Forests, Parks, and Monuments. I live for it now, and it’s easy to say it started back with a simple road trip in 2008 that included Redwood National & State Parks as well as Death Valley.

We are lucky, and when possible, can travel together to his family cabin in Northern Minnesota which is surrounded by National Forests and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Northern Minnesota is a REAL TREAT and if you get the chance, get up there and experience that solitude and untouched beauty.

It’s one thing to sit and read about the land set aside for us, but visiting various places and putting it all together makes it truly sink in. My buddy Kevin may have encouraged and inspired my initial love for public lands, but it is the online outdoor community that inspired my desire to continue to protect, expand, and care for them. One beautiful thing about the internet and social networking is the ability to connect with people to share knowledge and promote an end game that we can all get behind. I am forever grateful for the online outdoor community, some of whom I get to meet in person, for our shared love of all things public lands.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Favorite Place to Introduce People to Public Lands

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“Favorite Place to Introduce People to Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 2

September 20, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I’ve never had to think too hard about which piece of public land was my favorite to introduce to someone because I’m usually just so glad someone wants to go at all. My experience with public lands beyond state parks isn’t much, and I don’t know many people that are too adventurous, but I’m always willing to go anywhere anyone is up for visiting. I’ve had the joy of showing my other half Arches and then showing it to my best friend five years later. My friend Kevin and I have taken friends to Death Valley and seeing other people enjoy it as much as we did was wonderful. But, nothing has made me more excited than showing my best friend and other half Redwood National and State Parks in California. I originally visited the majestic Redwoods in spring of 2008 and long to go back as often as possible.

Each visit to the Redwoods, be it a state or national park, has been absolutely magical. From our first drive through in 2008 to my the most recent in 2017, which I’ve discussed [here], [here], [here], and [here]. I love the Redwoods, and with limited exposure to public lands thus far, I’d say it’s in my top three for favorite destinations. But, this isn’t about that. I’m excited just thinking about taking people to the Redwoods for the first time. Many people have heard of the big trees on the west coast, but few that I know have actually visited them. Expectations for what they look like are set from textbooks or internet photos, but seeing them in person usually blows them out of the water.

Redwood National and State Parks cover a LOT of ground. I’m talking, hours of driving and days of hiking to see it all. So, I can’t say that I’m an expert or that I’ve even visited every special place, but that makes it even more amazing to revisit. I’ve been to several of the main places, and that’s usually how it started when introducing my BFF and other half to the vastness that is the Redwoods. We’d hit up a popular spot and do the drive through the Avenue of the Giants. Each time, though, we’d try something else. From the Big Tree area we ventured off into the woods or from near Prairie Creek we headed over to Lost Man Creek. I’ve hiked the same trail, 9 years apart, but didn’t even know it so it felt brand new to me.

There is more to the Redwoods than just the big trees and ferns. There are wild rivers running through, old dirt roads that take the long way, and so many smaller trees that are just as beautiful. There are plenty of tourist attractions and a few gift shops as well as several small towns with stores and restaurants. One can feel very small and alone or completely part of the tourist crowd, it’s a choice that can even mean having the best of both worlds.

If you can get to Northern California, go to the Redwoods. Go on a weekday, go on a weekend, go for several days. Just. Go. You will likely not regret it unless you HATE trees, endless green leaves, ferns, dampness, fog, or the freshest smells of your life.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Favorite Morning on Public Lands

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“Your Favorite Morning on Public Lands”

Season 2, Week 1

September 13, 2018

Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.


I have a number of memorable mornings on public lands, but nothing quite like the morning I experienced a few weeks ago at Arches National Park. I’ve referenced the hike to Delicate Arch in my Hike 28 post, but I plan to visit why this was so magical for me and my range of feelings before, during, and after.

It was mid-August in Utah so we were expecting warm temperatures and moderate to heavy crowds in Arches National Park the weekend we were there. Our plan was to see as much of the park as we could in the day and a half we had, as well as what we could see at Canyonlands or the surrounding areas. I pitched the idea of starting a hike in the dark, very early in the morning, to Delicate Arch and my best friend Molly was totally on board because she’s just that kind of friend. I hadn’t hiked to Delicate Arch since 2010, and I didn’t really remember much from the hike except there was a ledge and then you were at the arch. Oh, I do remember Delicate Arch being much bigger in person, which shouldn’t be a surprise but was for me again on this visit.

A quick back track… We arrived via plane in Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon, from our home cities, and drove down to Moab Friday evening. We ate and drank at the Moab Brewery and then found our Airbnb just outside of town. Our plan was to wake up at 4, head to the Delicate Arch trail and hike up for the sunrise. We entered Arches about 4:15 AM Saturday and noticed some rain. The rain seemed to get more intense as we drove through, but we parked at the trailhead anyway and waited until about 5 AM. There were a few other people waiting it out, and eventually the rain let up as the light started to increase. People from a car that had came in and parked next to us headed out on the trail. We were not feeling as ambitious, as the sky wasn’t clear and we didn’t really want to end up wet for the whole day, so we headed back towards the entrance. The radar came up as cell data returned and we felt the right choice as the rain showers weren’t done for the immediate future. We had breakfast at the Moab Diner and decided to just enjoy the park all day and try again the next morning.

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Sunday morning came and we were determined to make this happen. The weather was dry, the air was mild, and the parking lot was mostly empty. We were excited, this was happening! We strapped our headlamps on and ensured we had what we needed in my backpack, and hit the trail. I had downloaded the topographic map to my phone as well as had a screenshot of it, per the advice of Jenny the Trailhead. Luckily, thankfully, we didn’t really need the map. Since 2010, they had installed signs (though, if they were there in 2010 they were not in my pictures or memory) the whole way up. I had mixed feelings about the signs, still do, but they were helpful and steered us in the right direction when I was accidentally steering us in the wrong direction. I have a lot to learn about maps and directions, despite having a love for maps and directions.

The first portion of the journey was a well manicured, well built hiking trail that took us up a series of switchbacks to the open rock face that we’d continue onward and upward next. Being out there, under the stars in the early morning was pure bliss. Hiking in the dark was a new and exciting treat for both of us and something I want to incorporate into my rotation more often. Having an “unknown” factor due to limited sight and not remember the trail from eight years ago really heightened any excitement level.

As we scrambled over the (what I assumed) to be red rocks, we made it to the next portion on the journey and it was a little confusing for a second. The area, though mostly level, dipped through a low area and then quickly turned right to ascend towards Delicate Arch. I got confused and led us a bit off course but Molly corrected us and got us back on track. The morning light was getting brighter and we had reached the point where headlamps were not necessary any more. The excitement of the darkness was gone and replaced with the excitement of being nearly there. I was sweating buckets at this point, but it was worth it so far.

The final dash was an incline along a rock wall, essentially a ledge, that ended with our first view of Delicate Arch. The ledge was probably the easiest part, for me, and one of my favorites because I thoroughly enjoy walking on the edge of something. My heart was racing, my shirt was sweaty, and my mind was thrilled at the ledge and first sight of the arch ahead. We were one of the first few groups up there, second or third, and had our choice of spots to watch the sun rise in the distance. The sky was hazy, from what I assume was wildfire smoke out west, and the sunrise was quite unique because of that. More people made their way up, but it never felt too crowded. Some people may have lingered too long in front of the Arch or made dangerous choices, but everything seemed fine overall. When we got up to relocate, away from the main “entrance” for hikers, I fell. For a moment I thought I was going to die. It was a cartoon style fall, feet out from under me, nearly kicking Molly in the head, and I blacked out for just a second as my back hit the ground. My head was safe, and I had fallen into an area that wouldn’t have allowed for rolling off the cliff. I was embarrassed, but okay, and off we went to get a better seat and a closer look.

This whole morning had been a dream, and we had just started our day. After the sun was up and the people count multiplied exponentially, we decided to head down. Seeing the trail for the first time in real light was weird and wonderful. The views we missed and the little sights along the way were impressive and spectacular. Seeing your path and footing really helped as we descended the rock face, which was pinkish red, and getting to the car as the parking lot was filling up made us feel victorious in a way. We conquered this trail, had this experience, and it was only breakfast time for most. At the parking lot, we passed people who noticed Molly’s Western Michigan University shirt. We stopped to chat and learned they were also from Michigan and about to hike up to the arch. We recalled our experience, gave some pointers, and made sure they had water.

I left Arches feeling accomplished and inspired. I knew I could do the hike, but actually doing it and experiencing it made all the difference. Hiking under the stars and seeing that first light in an amazing setting was phenomenal and something I’ll never forget. If you’re going to Delicate Arch, I highly suggest doing it in the morning to avoid the head and avoid the crowds. People are fine, it’s expected, but why not see it before they arrive if you have the ability and time? One final thing… if you go up to Delicate Arch, OR ANYWHERE ON PUBLIC LANDS, leave no trace. Pack out your trash - this includes orange peels and sunflower seed shells. There were SO MANY seed shells up at the Arch. For more information on how to enjoy nature without destroying it, visit the Leave No Trace (LNT) website.

#NatureWritingChallenge - I Didn't Even Know the Desert Could Do This!

Topic: A day of surprising wildflowers on America's Public Lands

As with every #NatureWritingChallenge, this post was created, edited, and uploaded within an hour.

Who knew the desert could bloom, and why didn't you tell me!?

It was 2008 and my two great friends and I were on a road trip to see the west.  I've talked about these road trips in numerous blog posts, but they're an important part of my love for public lands and road trips.  We had taken a trip in 2007 and stopped at a few cool places, but wanted more out of this year so we planned some major stops.  We started in the Pacific Northwest and made our way down the coast through the Redwoods and over to Sequoia/Kings Canyon and on to Death Valley.

None of us had been to Death Valley, nor the other places on the list, so this was a first-time experience for us all.  We entered the park, with views of mountains and started descending.  The views on the way in were as if we had been transported to another planet.  It went from giant trees to desert with snow capped mountains in the background so quickly.  We stopped early on to take some photos and so my friend could check out the dirt - he was a geology major and is now a geologist.  From there we went down to sea level, and of course stopped for a picture.  From there we kept going down, with plans to stop at the historical sites along the way to Badwater Basin.  As we stopped to take it all in, we realized we were in the midst of a desert bloom (or whatever we called it in 2008).

In my current state of being, I know what a desert bloom is.  I see all of the photos from the California desert and high desert areas in other states all spring long.  Back then, before even researching a road trip destination too much, I had absolutely NO IDEA what a desert bloom was or that it could even happen at this level.  We had stumbled upon, what I now realize, a brief window in time when people plan for and take vacation time to see what Mother Nature can do with colors in the desert.  It was gorgeous!  Yellow flowers across the desert, with snow capped mountains in the background.  Simply amazing and unexpected.  I look back at the photos, trying to remember what I was thinking and can only imagine it wasn't much.  I'm not sure in 2008 we appreciated it as I would today, but I know it caught our eye and offered a nice experience nonetheless.  I can't say the photos we took in 2008 do it any justice, but it was very windy and we didn't quite try too hard.

Nowadays, I look forward to the time I'll be able to make a trip to the desert when the flowers are blooming and hope to do it soon.  Enjoy these photos from the surprising and unexpected desert bloom of 2008 in Death Valley National Park.  May you find some flowers this spring, wherever you are!

#NatureWritingChallenge - A big day in Big Bend

Topic: One last look back at a favorite winter's moment on America's Public Lands

Location: Big Bend National Park - Texas

Date: January 2014

One of the great things about living in Texas can be the lack of a traditional winter with the snow and ice of the north or mountains.  I grew up in Michigan, with lake effect blizzards, winter snow, and plenty of cold weather.  While I miss the snow, I have mostly adjusted to the mild winters I now enjoy in Texas - it can be the best time of year to be outside.

Back in 2014, my other half and one of our best friends embarked on a quick trip to Big Bend National Park.  The drive from where we lived at the time was about 8 hours and that is through some of the flattest, most boring parts of Texas that exist.  We left our house early, in the dark, with temperatures hovering near 20 degree and arrived to the park with sunshine and slightly warmer air.  It was perfect.  Sunshine, amazing views along the drive in, and only a few people in the campground - we were off to a good start.

We did a little hike of the Lost Mine Trail and then went to finish setting up camp.  We pitched the tent, made some food, watched the sky turn pink, and waited for our friend to arrive - she had to work a half day.  It was dark by the time she came, but it was really just in time to see the stars.  The night sky was insane!  There were more stars in sight than I ever though I'd be able to see.  We enjoyed staring up, quietly and drifted off to sleep.

As morning light broke, we learned we had visitors.  As we peeked out of the tent, we saw deer in every direction eating the grass at the campsites.  Once people began to stir, the deer moved to less populated areas and empty campsites but were undeterred overall.  We made breakfast and prepared for the day of adventure.  We needed to see most of the park in one day, as we had to leave the next morning.  The park is huge, and knowing what I do now, I realize trying to see the whole place in one day is a bit silly.  We were blissfully unaware of how long it would take and had no real idea of what was out there to explore.  We followed signs, took scenic turnouts, and it seemed to work out well.  We saw a variety of landscapes and learned about the history of the park, which was the best we could do looking back.

A highlight of the long day was getting to Santa Elana Canyon in time to see the sun setting on the Rio Grande.  We'd walked along the Rio Grande in the Rio Grande Village area but seeing the views from the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook trail was spectacular.  Our day of driving went from one end of the park to the other, effectively using every minute of daylight available.  We returned to camp in the dark, tired, and ready for bed.

The trip was quick and left us wanting more.  I learned about the desert and was able to see how diverse the landscape of Texas can be - in one single park.

 

**This post was created in 1-hour fro the Nature Writing Challenge on Twitter.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Lone Bison and the Army of Spiders

Tonight's topic: A memorable animal encounter on America's Public Lands

On our way to Fern Cave

I'll start this story by saying I do not have any photos of the situation, as we were scrambling to keep ourselves and the dog safe in avoiding the lone bison out for a stroll on the hiking trail.  It was the end of September, the perfect time of year to be camping in Texas, and my other half, dog, and I were out at Caprock Canyons State Park in the panhandle of Texas.  Caprock Canyons is known around the state because of the bison herd they have roaming the park.  We had adventured to this park in the spring, the other acceptable time of year to camp in Texas.  In the spring, we became acquainted with the bison and the layout of the park, but didn't see everything.  Our late September visit was set in motion for one main reason - to hike to Fern Cave.  Fern Cave is in the northwest corner of the park and is a cavern with ferns growing wild due to the natural runoff and the coolness provided from the rocks.  It was just over two miles back to the cave, so we took our time as the scenery was beautiful with red rocks mixed and green bushes thriving along the creek.

Fern Cave!

We arrived at Fern Cave in the late afternoon, with an expected return time to the campsite being around sundown.  As we exited the cave, which had a narrow passage way in and out, we passed a couple and made the usual friendly greeting.  We were hiking back the way we came, towards the trailhead and passed two women who were enjoying a snack that we had passed on our way in the cave.  The sun was beginning to dim in the distance, with light fading and the golden hour upon us.  We walked about a mile or mile and a half, I can't be certain, and there he was - the lone bison.  In the middle of the hiking path, there was a younger male bison separated from his herd hanging out.  He was rolling around, scratching the ground, and seemed to be dancing as though no one was watching.  He didn't see us, so we back tracked to put a safe distance between us - he wasn't going anywhere.

The view from the path...one of the last photos before stumbling on the lone bison

The main goal was to get back to camp alive and unharmed, so we had to be smart.  We looked at the brush on either side of the trail, thick with grass and thorny mesquite plants.  To the left, we had a valley and an abundance of mesquite, to the right was mostly grass and low mesquite bushes and in plain sight of the bison.  The two women had caught up so us and we caught them up on what was going on.  They said they heard that there was a bison on loose from the ranger as they checked in to the park, but didn't know exactly where - good to know, now.  We brainstormed and attempted a few trials at passing far enough away from the bison.  One try led us into bushes too thick and one to a valley too deep and treacherous.  At one point, the lone bison veered a little off course and we thought we'd get by on the trail but that didn't last long.  We thought we could distract him in the bush, but that didn't seem to work either.  Eventually, we had to just bite the bullet and go through those bushes that were too thick the first time and put some distance between us and the creature.  We made it far enough around him and eventually returned to the trail.  Hearts racing, legs scratched up, we were safe and back on track with only an hour delay.  The sun had set by now, the sky was purple, and we still had a couple of miles to go until we made it back to the campsite.

The walk back grew darker and darker with each footstep forward and then I remembered that I always keep a headlamp in my day pack!  Who knew that being prepared for everything would come in handy? The answer, everyone who suggests being prepared.  The headlamp leads to the other part of this story.  Once we made it to the main road that leads to the campsite, my headlamp was catching what looked like hundreds of diamonds in the darkness off the road.  Upon further inspection, they were spiders.  HUNDREDS of spiders had us surrounded - the entire way to the tent including around our cement pad where we had to take our shoes off and eat our late meal.  It can be assumed the spiders were harmless grass spiders, but we weren't sure at the time of that and still aren't completely convinced.

These encounters were firm, yet appropriate, reminders that animals have the right of way when you're in their home.  We had respect for that bison, and gave him the space he required to live his life.  The lone bison dictated our moves and we had little choice in the matter.  The spiders were just hanging out, as they do, because they live there.  We were guests on their turf and sometimes we need to be reminded of that simple fact.  I hope that lone bison found his herd and I hope he keeps on dancing like no one is watching.

Home free - safely around the lone bison

*This post was created in 1 hour for the Nature Writing Challenge found on twitter using the hashtag "naturewritingchallenge"

#NatureWritingChallenge - Off the beaten path (for me)

Today's topic:

"A memorable day off the beaten path on America's Public Lands"

This post was created in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge hosted by Douglas Scott on Twitter.

I'm not sure how to approach the topic of "off the beaten" path without immediately thinking of my most recent trip to various public lands on the Olympic Peninsula in the great state of Washington.  Many of the places I visited had well worn paths that could probably use a break, but there were a few special places that seemed a bit less visited and allowed visitors like me to fully unwind and fully appreciate our Public Lands.

Many people visit the Storm King Ranger Station at Olympic National Park.  I'd be willing to bet that many people visit Marymere Falls, which is ranger station adjacent, as well as hike the Mt. Storm King trail.  I don't have statistics, but the Marymere Falls trail was well used and was easy to follow, even up the hills to the waterfall viewing.  Mt. Storm King, while abrupt with elevation was also well used until the "end of maintained trail" marker near the top.  I made it to that marker and thought I was on top of the world. Then, I saw a faint path that went past the sign and looked at my map to see what was up.  I'm not experienced with any hills over 700 feet, let alone a mountain, but I assumed people continue on and climb to the top to get a better view.  A quick internet search led me to numerous photos from the top and my newfound desire to get up there to see what all the fuss was all about.  I started inching past the tree with the "end of trail" sign on it, plotting my path and making sure I could safely climb back down.  I moved 20 feet, stopped and admired the view, moved another 20 feet and did this until I just didn't feel safe anymore.  It was still earlier in the morning, there was no one around, and I had an almost top of the mountain to myself.  I saw Lake Crescent in the distance, a rainbow through the clouds, and mountains covered in trees. 

Despite not being able to go all the way to the top, I felt accomplished.  I have never climbed that much in elevation in that short of a distance, I've never had views like I did from there, and I certainly haven't haven't felt ice pelt me in the face while staring at a rainbow.  I'm not the most physically fit person, so it was a personal victory for me to get up there without quitting.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, in a good way, and I had a few tears while laughing and catching my breath.  I didn't feel unsafe, stressed, or upset about anything.  I felt free, happy, accomplished, and motivated.  I sat there for a long time, staring out and up and taking in every moment as if it were the last thing I'd ever see.  If I wasn't already in love with the area and park, my heart would have melted right there on that ridge.  I was smiling ear to ear the entire journey down to the trailhead.

The mountain may have boosted my confidence and lifted my spirits, but the beach helped me truly let go of anything weighing me down.  I drove out to Ozette and hiked the Ozette Loop on a coastal portion of the Olympic National Park the next day.  The boardwalk and path to the ocean, through what felt like a temperate jungle, were well worn and beautifully maintained but once you hit the beach, it is just you and that ocean.  Sure, there were a few tide pools, rocks, and fallen timber, but for the most part it's just you and the ocean.  While walking from Point Alava to Sand Point, I ran into one small group of people and a few birds.  There was no path on the beach, just sand.  You walk along, alone for the most part, listening to the waves crash on the rocks.  The sensation of being free, following only a coastline, and being in one of the most pristine places on west coast was enough to make my head float.  I was gone, my thoughts were gone, and I was free.  I walked along, staring into the tide pools, hopping over logs, and dodging whatever seaweed stayed behind on land after high tide.  The three miles from point to point was a moment of zen or clarity or whatever you want to call it.

Olympic National Park rejuvenated my soul and assured me that I can do the things I want in life - like climbing mountains.  I have spent more time on the beaten path, but those little moments off have really allowed me to experience raw feelings and be at peace with myself more than any trail has in the past.  I'm forever grateful for our Public Lands and will continue to seek the places off the beaten path.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The Power of Water at Devil's Churn

15 March 2018 Topic:  “A memorable moment witnessing the power of water in our Public Lands.”

I've been moving and organizing, so I've missed enough evening chats and writing prompts in the past few weeks that I'm going to do this one anyway, after the scheduled time with the same rules applying.

As soon as I saw the topic, I knew what I was going to write about.  Devil's Churn, on the Oregon Coast, is a narrow inlet carved into the rocks that makes the wave crash like I've never seen before.  I first visited Devil's Churn in 2008, on a whim with some buddies on our annual spring break road trip.  We were looking at the map, yes a paper map, and saw this place called Devil's Churn and had to check it out because of the name alone.  The path down to the water starts from a small parking lot and winds down through the coastal trees to the rocky coastline.  Once you're out of the trees, you're standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean with giant rocks all around and huge sprays of water coming at you.

The actual inlet that is Devil's Churn is a bit wider than a human is tall at points, carved into the cliffs, and slippery as hell along the edges.  We climbed on the those wet rocks, keeping our balance the best we could, getting closer and closer to the edge which satisfied our curiosity.  We had never seen anything like this before.  We were all from Michigan, with the greatest of lakes, but nothing like Devil's Churn.  We stood on the edge, just out of reach of the majority of the spray, and watched the waves crash for at least 30 minutes.  We explored all around following the rocks out to some sandy areas and getting an even better view of the ocean near the mouth of the inlet.  The waves just kept crashing, relentlessly, captivating our attention each time.  Crash! Trickle. Water churned around, slapping the edges but not crashing.  CRASH! Another wave came in.  Repeat.  To witness the power of the ocean for the first time, for us, was a mind bending experience.

Devil's Churn is one of those special places for me, being one of the first places I've witnessed the power of the Pacific Ocean.  The following year, I was on another spring break road trip and we happened to be going up the coast and just had to stop at Devil's Churn.  One person I was with was there the year prior, but we felt we had to show our newcomer the power of this place.  The day wasn't as sunny or mild, but the power of the water remained the same - maybe more powerful with the excessive winds and added rain.

The third, and most recent, time I decided to detour and visit Devil's Churn was in 2013 on a late summer road trip.  I was with my other half and we had planned an Oregon Coast scenic tour.  We stopped at many beaches and viewpoints, but I made sure we stopped at Devil's Churn.  It was a rainy, gray, and cool day along the coast but that didn't stop us.  We parked, took the path down and I shared the power of water with yet another person important to me.  We walked down, inspected the crevice, and enjoyed the foggy beach views.  We watched the water churn and crash and admired the waves while trying to keep our balance on the slippery rocks.

It's been five years since I've visited the Oregon Coast, and Devil's Churn.  I think about the coast often, the power of the water crashing into the rocky cliffs, the trees, and the fog.  I can still smell the air from those visits and it only adds to the longing I feel to return.  As time moved forward, I learned about other great spots along that coast and realized we were only miles from other magnificent and powerful water features such as Thor's Well or Cape Perpetua.  I hope to get back to see Devil's Churn again as well as the other gems along the Oregon Coast.

 

 

*This was created in 1 hour for the Nature Writing Challenge hosted by Douglas Scott on twitter at #NatureWritingChallenge.

#NatureWritingChallenge - The trees are bigger in California

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It was just last summer when I first entered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  My other half and I were driving from Oregon to Texas and we decided to stop at a few National Parks along the way.  We had visited Redwoods the year before, but went through there again because, how can you not?  From the west coast, we took the long way to I-5 and headed south towards Sequoia and Kings Canyon.  Back in 2008 my buddies and I had skirted around through Sequoia National Forest, but opted to devote our time to Death Valley.

As you leave Sacramento and continue south, it's a pretty boring ride until you get to the Sequoia National Forest.  Once you climb the mountains, the views of the valleys become clear and the trees start to get taller.  This was the first National Park that I entered and needed to buy an annual pass, as we had let ours expire, and also the first I've ever waiting in line to enter.  After speaking with a nice woman about the park, we were on our way to the big trees.  We had a limited amount of time and needed to keep on schedule.

The first big, famous tree was saw was the General Grant.  The Redwoods always amaze me, but these trees are a little different.  They're huge and in sunshine, without the mist of the west coast or lush green undergrowth.  These trees have bulbous trunks and roots that bulge way out.  They survive fire, wind, and other disasters and continue on because that's their purpose - to carry on.

We left General Grant for General Sherman.  The drive between the two areas is quite an adventure along a winding mountain road.  The views over the edge, the big trees, and the curves keep your attention for the entire way.  Once at General Sherman, we descended with the crowds to the featured giant.  Again, walking among the giants made me feel small in the best way.

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Leaving the park was just as spectacular as entering.  The trip down the mountain was exciting as every turn gave way to a new view of the mountains or valley.  The trees got smaller, but that humble feeling from walking with the giants lasted for a while.

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This post was created in 1 hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge.  Check it out on Twitter with the hashtag and feel free to join in!

 

*This post is short and sweet and may or may not make sense due to NyQuil and a debilitating cough/cold.

#NatureWritingChallenge - Badwater Basin: 282 Feet Below Sea Level

"A memorable sign on Public Lands" - This post was created for the #naturewritingchallenge in one hour.

I was thinking back to all the signs on public lands - there have been a lot and I'm kind of obsessed with documenting my travels with them.  I started to look through my archives, trying to find that most memorable sign.  Then, I thought, maybe it's not a photo of a sign but maybe one of those many epiphanies I've had in my life.  I've had many moments on Public Lands that have brought great clarity to my brain, but not really any major signs in life.  So, I'm going to stick to the physical and share one of my most memorable and favorite signs.  The year was 2008, my two good buddies and I had just visited the Redwoods and were moving on through California to Death Valley National Park.  I had researched the Redwoods, as mentioned in the post from last week, but I really knew NOTHING about Death Valley prior to visiting.  We arrived midday, sun shining, wind blasting, and the desert blooming.  We were in shock, coming from moss covered redwoods to giant sequoias to the desert - the hottest, lowest place in the USA.

I can remember the start of our drive through the park - we were truly obsessed with the signs because we were in love with the road trip.  Signs were the way we navigated - old school, before smartphones and navigation systems in the dash.  We were in our rented car, driving through the desert and we see the sign to turn right in a mile for Death Valley.  Eventually, we get to to the Death Valley welcome sign and enter the park, feeling accomplished.  We were using Microsoft Streets and Trips, but signs were our guiding visual element.  If I went out there right now and reenacted this scenario, with my Google Maps built in to my device, I'm not sure I'd have been as observant of the signs and markers.  As I write this I'm having an "ah-ah" moment about how I've become so much less observant in current times and maybe I need to slow it down when I'm out and about.  I still notice signs, but I don't obsess over them the way we did before Google Maps and that fresh road trip spirit of the late 2000s.

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As we meandered through the park, we stopped at various tourist stops to take it in and take pictures.  We stopped to take a photo of the sign proclaiming we were at sea level and moved on to see the how borax was mined and transformed and then on to see the desert in bloom.  We made our way to the Devil’s Golf Course, to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, and then to Badwater Basin.  When I think of my first trip to Death Valley, I think of Badwater Basin and posing with the sign that says I was 282 feet below sea level.  Of all the places we saw, other than maybe the desert in bloom which only seems significant now that I know people flock to see it, Badwater stands out.  The white salt flats, the salty pools of water, the view through the valley, and the sign that said I was there.  Death Valley and Redwoods were the first two big parks I experienced in my life - and they were a day a part.  Sure the trees are unforgettable, in fact I daydream about them often, but being in the hottest and lowest place in the USA is also quite memorable and I have a photo with a sign to prove it.

Two years after this visit, I was able to get back.  This time, I knew a little about what to expect when visiting Death Valley.  We entered from the east this time, made our way to places I didn't even know existed the first time, I didn't see any bloom in the desert, and I sure did go back to Badwater and stand next to that sign again.  Going back, I was genuinely excited to see this place again and to take a photo in front of the sign.  Sure, I got to see the valley from Dante's View, hike through one of the side canyons, and see the painted desert hills of the Artist's Drive, but that sign at Badwater was a constant and will be any time I visit in the future.  Signs come and go, they change, and they can be metaphorical.  Maybe this one sign is just a physical sign, but it's representative of my first desert adventure, inspired me to check out more desert destinations, and beckons me to return to see it and the ever changing Badwater Basin.

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